ailon's DevBlog: Development related stuff in my life

Automatic Unit Converter

5/21/2010 2:54:45 PM

What & Why?

On my recent trip to USA one of the biggest challenges was a constant need to evaluate all the US units and figuring what they mean to me. Miles, feet, inches, gallons, ounces, Fahrenheit… Come on, guys, it’s about time to switch to normal measurement system! ;)

Nevertheless I’ve liked it there and would definitely want to go again. So, Microsoft Lithuania contest to make an Internet Explorer 8 accelerator with trip to MIX11 as a grand prize couldn’t come handier.

When first paragraph met the second one in my head, I knew immediately what to make for this contest.

Please welcome my Automatic Unit Converter IE8 accelerator and complimentary site. You just select some text on some site, click the blue accelerator button, hover over “Convert to Metric” and get all the known units in your selection converted to metric.

Automatic Unit Converter for IE8

Why not just use Google, Bing, etc.?

  1. Not everything work automagically with Google and Bing. 60 ft 5 inch works, but 60'5" doesn’t. Often you have to tell Google what your target is. Building an engine to figure that out is one short step away from just converting the values. So I just made that step myself.
  2. Multiple values in arbitrary text. When you are looking at a text containing multiple values (like in the screenshot above) you don’t want to select and convert them one by one.

What about other systems and directions?

I would probably improve US-to-Metric over time and add Imperial-to-Metric. As for converting these back from metric I’m not personally interested in it. That said I’ve created a conversion module in away to allow expansion and I’m ready to make it open source. So, if someone is up for the task, let me know and I’ll post the project online and implement selection and specific accelerators for different scenarios into the site.

Vote for me!

My accelerator is listed on the contest page as “Matų konvertavimas”. Click on “Patinka” if you like the accelerator.

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Random Non-Tech Musings about MIX10

3/31/2010 4:36:47 PM

Since MIX10 conference was my first trip to MIX (… and Las Vegas, and USA) I’ve read some non-tech info prior to going there. Good starting points are Thomas Lewis’s “The Devil’s Field Guide to MIX” series and Sean Gerety’s “So you want to go to a conference”. These are very good but I think I can add my 2 cents to what’s written there based on my first time experiences.

Dress Code

No, it’s not about general dress code. It’s about facilitating conversation. If you are nicely dressed like a regular guy and you aren’t anyone important (known face) it’s perfectly fine, but you’ll have to start your own conversations, introduce yourself to people. Even those who are your virtual friends.

By the end of day one I was so tired of “I’m ailon on Twitter” phrase absolutely required to get attention of people who actually know you there and have no idea who you are by looking straight into your eyes or even your attendee badge with your name on it. BTW it would be great if organizers let you include your nick or some misc. info along with your name and company on the badge (or we can just write it with markers, or bring some stickers).

So, if I go to the next MIX (or actually any other conference of that type) I’m making a couple of t-shirts with “@ailon” on them. If you consider your trip more business than pleasure, then wear clothes with your company name, logo, product name, etc.

Hotel

Sean Gerety writes:

Remember that in Vegas, you can’t cut it close when it comes to getting a taxi or thinking that you’ll just walk from the Tropicana to the Mandalay Bay is not just a short walk.  You walk all the way from your room to the lobby, then down the street to the hotel, then through the lobby of the Mandalay Bay to the back where their conference center is located.  This could take you quite a while.

While I partially agree with what’s written there I’ve stayed in Tropicana anyway :) The reason is simple: no one paid for my hotel and I paid for 5 nights in Tropicana roughly the same amount I would pay for one night in Mandalay Bay. Yes, Mandalay Bay is fancier, nicer, closer to the conference center, etc. but I’m convinced my decision was right for me (provided I was there without my family). As I said it’s cheaper, it was clean, the room was big, the bed was big and comfortable. And I even had a mirror on the ceiling above my bed (ha-ha!). And I guess I had a better view from my window than most of those who stayed in Mandalay:

And the walk was actually reasonably short. There’s even a free train/tram from Excalibur (which is across the street from Tropicana) to Mandalay Bay if you are too tired to walk 500 meters. And, btw, if you want to go for walk on the Strip you’ll end up walking exactly the same path but in opposite direction.

That said there are 2 extra factors you might want to consider before going with cheaper alternative:

  1. Weather. If the weather isn’t right you may have to put extra clothes on and you’ll be stuck with them for the day at the conference (pretty inconvinient). There’s actually an indoor passage from Excalibur to Mandalay Bay but you still have to make it over the open overpass from Tropicana to Excalibur.
  2. Swagger. When you say goodbye to people at the end of the day almost every time it ends with people explaining to which hotel they are going. So, if staying in cheaper hotel may affect your or your company’s image you may want to think twice.

Downtown & Gambling

Thomas Lewis suggests going downtown to gamble:

As you know, times are tight. You need to find values in Vegas. I recommend taking a bus downtown to some of the old-school  casinos. I have a hiding place where the shrimp cocktail is as big as your head (disclaimer: slight exaggeration) for a couple bucks. The slots and tables are cheap to buy in and it will remind you of the days of yore, instead of the fancy $25 dollar minimum tables you will find up the street. You also will more than likely sit next to old people, and old people are totally cool and have awesome stories about Vegas!

Well, if you aren’t a gambler and just want to check the checkbox next to “Gambled in Vegas”, don’t. It’s actually quite a long ride with bus stopping very often and for quite long periods of time. It took us close to an hour to go from Tropicana to Downtown. And most importantly there’s nothing you absolutely must see. Sure, it might be worth a visit if you have time to spare but if your schedule is tightly packed, just skip it. I’ve seen 1 cent slot machines in even the fanciest casinos on the Strip and there are $5 tables in Excalibur which were fine by me for a/m checkmark.

Also if you are coming from a very different time zone (Europe, Asia, Africa, etc.) you may have some troubles sleeping at night. When I woke up at 4am for the second night in a row I realized that there’s no better time to gamble for a non-gambler than this. You’ll have your days and evenings packed at such an eventful conference and you don’t want to waste that time for obligatory visit to casino. So, rather than trying to force your body and soul to sleep for an extra hour or two, just go down to casino in your hotel and do the deed.

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Now I’m on TV for real

3/27/2010 12:08:22 PM

Interview with MIX10k winners and judges has been posted on Channel9. Check it out. Yeah, I know that my English sucks.

Get Microsoft Silverlight

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Windows Phone at MIX10: Cooling down the hype

3/26/2010 6:32:12 PM

I’ve just returned from my trip to MIX10 and a short vacation in California. Lots of info has been posted about MIX and Windows Phone and by much better writers than me, so there’s no need for me to recap everything.

I’ve attended Windows Phone 7 track of sessions at the conference (for the most part) and unfortunately everything that I’ve learned cooled my enthusiasm for WP7 down one step at a time. Here’s what’s wrong for me first as a consumer and then as developer.

Why I’m not as enthusiastic about WP7 as consumer after MIX10?

windows-phone-7-series-4

Sure enough everyone has heard about no copy/paste in R1. That’s sort of lame and I don’t even know what to think about this. I hope they just make up their mind before the release.

Then there’s no real multitasking. I understand Microsoft’s point about this and I’d be ok with it with one small exception – at the very least built-in music player should be perfect. And I’m pessimistic about this being the case. Minimum requirement I need is for player to be able to remember position in last played file (for podcasts and audiobooks) even if the phone was turned off. WMP in WinMo 6.x couldn’t do that. So I had to use 3rd party player for podcasts and audiobooks and it wouldn’t work in the background on WP7. Can anyone confirm or deny that audio player in WP7 can remember file position?

But the most problematic part is virtual keyboard. No one at the WP7 booth could tell me if it would be possible to add additional keyboard layouts (for other languages) in WP7. It’s not possible to do with standard keyboard on WM6 but I can install 3rd party SIPs. And I’m using PocketCM keyboard which let’s me create layouts for as many languages as I need. It was confirmed during one of the sessions that no 3rd party SIPs will be allowed on WP7. The guys at WP7 booth agreed that my scenario for needing more than one keyboard layout makes total sense but they had no idea if there’s a way to do that (so I guess there’s no). They took my business card and promised to get back to me with an answer but I have yet to hear from them and I’m not holding my breath. We agreed that the technology is obviously there and there are no technical limitations preventing from adding this feature but they are in a hurry and I guess this has a low priority in USA. <sarcasm>Having 2 pages on the keyboard completely dedicated to smileys obviously has a higher priority.</sarcasm> It looks good in the demos.

One more issue is marketplace-only installation of apps. Making a switch for advanced users (even something in the registry) allowing them to install 3rd party apps without marketplace would make lots of geeks happier while still controlling stability of consumer phones. And this would open the platform for corporate use too. Geeks are going to jail-break the phone anyway so why not make it legal and sort of controlled?

I’ve talked to Ueli Sonderegger (from Brazil) about other things and then he mentioned he was told that MS is going to release WP7 at the same time in Brazil as in US but in English. Now this is totally cool with me but for large non-English speaking countries this is like a blow in the face. I guess his reaction was as simple as “WTF!?” even though he didn’t say so.

I’m left with a feeling that even though Microsoft managed to create a unique and cool experience which is not just not-an-iPhone but actually looks and feels great, they’ve copied Apple’s bad practices on the business side almost 1:1. And that sucks!

I guess at this point my thinking is that I’m going to wait for WP7 vNext as a consumer. Or at least wait for it to be in the wild for some time and see how things turn out (you know XDA guys and stuff :). I was curious how HTC is going to sell HD2s after WP7 announcement but after MIX10 I think I know the answer – HD2 with WM6.5 and HTC Sense would be a superior phone at least for tech savvy users for some time after WP7 comes out.

What about the developer story?

Windows-Phone-7-series-Marketplace-hub-1

When they confirmed Silverlight and XNA as developer platforms for Windows Phone a week before MIX I was very enthusiastic. If they say that before MIX they must have some bombs up their sleeves for the MIX, right? Wrong!

Yes, the tools are free and great but that was even more expected than Silverlight being a first class citizen. Everything else I’ve learned made me like WP7 less not more.

The tragic part is that we in Lithuania (along with Latvia, Estonia and a hundred other countries) are not allowed to build WP7 apps at all. Yes, you read that right. Since users can only install apps through the marketplace and the list of countries allowed to sign-up as developers in marketplace is very short (30 countries as far as I remember), we can only develop WP7 apps as a programming exercise and on emulator only. Cause even if we get our hands on a real device in the future you can only unlock it for development by signing up as a developer and we can’t do that. I’ve presented this issue in front of John Bruno & Todd Biggs (my question and public part of the answer is around 55:35 mark) and this is what’s great about actually being at MIX. What I’ve been told off the air is that Lithuania is, as far as Todd remembers, in a bucket of next 20 countries they plan to cover around summer and they have them divided in easy-to-do and hard-to-do buckets and again as far as Todd remembers Lithuania is in the easy-to-do bucket but he wasn’t sure and there are technical, juridical and other issues. What I think is really the issue is the size of our country. We are in EU and our laws are aligned with EU. Most of our banks are owned by Scandinavian banks. We can get money from PayPal and at the very least Google can send us checks for AdSense cause they are lazy to implement a better way, etc. So again I think the issue is with prioritization by market importance and not anything else. But let’s hope this changes really soon and I’d like to think that me bringing my interest in development up will have something to do to accelerate our acceptance into marketplace.

Another issue is not-really-real Silverlight. Scott Guthrie said “It’s not Silverlight Lite. It’s not Siverlight Mobile. It’s Silverlight.” (or something very close to that). As it turned out it’s Silverlight 3 and not even completely the same Silverlight 3 as on the web/desktop. Silverlight 4 will be released in April and by the time WP7 is released judging by current Silverlight release pace there will be Silverlight 5 Beta. So you can call it real Silverlight 3 but actually it is Silverlight Mobile. There’s nothing wrong with that since it’s for developing phone apps and not for web apps (IE on WP7 wont support Silverlight at launch). It’s just not what’s being advertised.

Enough with ranting/whining!

In the end I’d like to state that I still like WP7 in general and I really wish and hope it succeeds but I guess by holiday season 2010 it will be something like iPhone 1.0 – cool but not usable yet. Let’s hope I’m wrong here or I hope my old HTC Touch can sustain another year or even two before WP7 becomes really appealing to me.

Shout it kick it on DotNetKicks.com

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See You at MIX10!

3/11/2010 7:21:18 PM

So I’m going to MIX10. This will be my first trip to Vegas, my first trip to USA, my first flight over Atlantic Ocean and I think my first conference of any sort. I guess I’m not that old after all, if I can get so many first time experiences from one trip.

I’m looking forward to all the cool info on Windows Phone 7, Silverlight 4, etc. And I’m looking forward to meeting loads of cool nerds. Not sure if my brain can handle it, though. I really like meeting interesting people but I’m a shy person and I guess I may have problems approaching people for no other reason than saying “hello”. So I included my mug shot below (click to enlarge) for those who aren’t as shy as I am. I encourage you to come say “hi” if you see me at MIX.

IMG_1380

And as a bonus ask me for a free amCharts license and I’ll give you one!

I’m planning on doing a short trip to Los Angeles and San Francisco area after MIX. So if you are driving from Las Vegas to LA on March 18th and have a place for a passenger, please, consider me. You can contact me via email or twitter @ailon.

And if you’d like to grab a beer in LA on 18th-19th or in SF area on 20th-22nd drop me a line too.

See you at MIX!

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MIX10K Winners on SilverlightTV

2/19/2010 10:13:15 AM

Yesturday John Papa and Adam Kinney announced MIX 10K winners on SilverlightTV. Check it out:

Get Microsoft Silverlight

The part about my entry starts at approximately 6:18 mark. And John accidentally hits a link to my games.ailon.org site. Oops :) I’m sorry, John.

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I’m going to MIX10!

2/16/2010 11:10:44 AM

Thanks to all who voted for my MIX 10K Smart Coding Challenge entry. Thanks to you I’ve won the Community Prize!

image

I’ve already bought the plane tickets and I’m flying Vilnius – Copenhagen – Newark – Las Vegas on March 13th. Anyone on the same route? These are probably the most pleasant unexpected expenses of my life.

Congratulations to Grand Prize winner Jimmy D for his awesome Frog Log game made in HTML5 and to all runners-up!

I especially liked Pipe Runner by Rafal C – truly awesome game. You have to check it out. When I first saw it I thought I have no chances but I guess being an early bird paid off.

Thanks again to everyone who voted for my little game. You can download the source code of a slightly spiced up version here. It’s not a 10kb version and it’s not a good example of how you should develop Silverlight games (the beauty of code was not the objective) but it’s available for the curious.

Mix10_SeeYou_blk_240

If you would like to hook up at the conference or en route feel free to email me at ailon@ailon.org or message me on twitter @ailon or leave a comment here.

See you in Vegas!

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